The first tentative steps have been taken to reopen the country to business and more controlled measures to reopen are on the way. The Government published its reopening strategy in Our Plan to Rebuild, outlining what reopening small business will look like. While the Government wants everyone to remain alert, small businesses can finally look to start trading again as long as proper precaution is taken.
To help understand how to reopen your small business post lockdown, here are answers to the most pressing questions you might have.
Which small businesses are allowed to reopen and when?
From 13 May, workers who were unable to work from home in certain key industries were encouraged to return back to work. The sectors mentioned as ‘key industries’ in the official Government guide were:
- Food production
- Distribution and scientific research in laboratories
If work could be conducted from home, the advice was to continue to do so. Furthermore, the Government asked workers to avoid using public transport, if possible.
As the country embarks on a much wider reopening, all shops will be allowed to open their doors for customers on 1 June.
And later in the summer, certain hospitality services can reopen from 4 July. This would include small businesses, such as hairdressers, beauty salons and pubs, as well as hotels.
What are the conditions for reopening small business?
The Government has also published guidelines on keeping workplaces safe for employees and customers. These documents include detailed instructions for different sectors, considering the varied needs small business will have. You can find the documents here.
Reopening small business with guidance in mind will make the business “COVID-19 secure”. This means the business has conducted an appropriate risk assessment and passed it. Any small business with over 50 employees will be required to conduct the COVID-19 risk assessment and the Government will closely monitor how businesses are coping. Violation of the guidelines could lead to fines.
How can you prepare your small business?
As you move closer to reopening your small business, you should carefully follow the Government guidelines and focus especially on the following general points:
- Redesign workspaces to make it easier to maintain the two-metre social distancing rules. This includes staggered start times, one-way walkthroughs, increased numbers of exits and entrances if possible, and pre-allocated seating layouts.
- Reinforce higher cleaning standards. Workspaces should be cleaned more frequently and you should ensure there are enough hand washing facilities and hand sanitizers for employees and customers to use.
- Limit the number of close interactions. For example, create alternative work schedules to limit the number of employees at work or assign fixed partners whenever employees have to work together. In terms of customers, you should consider limiting the number of customers on the shop floor. You should also create see-through barriers between the customer and the cashier.
You can find detailed information online regarding the ways in which to implement the above tips in the Government guidelines. Furthermore, the British Retail Consortium has published guidance on how to adhere to social distancing in retail shops and warehouses.
The Government also has detailed information on what to do if there has been a suspected or known case of coronavirus at your small business premises.
Can your employees refuse to work?
According to the employment law, no one is obliged to work in an unsafe work environment. Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 allows employees to refuse to work if they have a reasonable belief of “serious or imminent danger” to their health and others around them. Could an employee refuse to work due to coronavirus and cite Section 44 as the reason? This is possible, but you should limit the risk of it happening by taking care of safety measures.
The most important thing as a business owner is to conduct the COVID-19 risk assessment and communicate the steps you’ve taken to secure the workplace to your employees. You want to talk to them openly about the situation and to answer any concerns they might have as soon as possible.
It’s important to use the furlough scheme with any employee who cannot return to work because they need to shelter or they are caring for someone who has to shelter.
You want to follow the Government’s advice on safety rules and to communicate the measures with your employees. Consider talking to an employment solicitor if you’re unsure what to do.
How can you limit the financial impact of coronavirus on your small business?
If your small business has not been trading normally in the past few months, you might require financial assistance. Reopening small business can be costly, especially if you need to make changes to adhere to the safety rules and regulations.
Don’t forget there is financial assistance available to your small business. You can:
- Continue to furlough your employees if you cannot reopen.
- Apply for the available small business grants or loans.
- Make use of tax deductions if your employees are working from home.
How we can help your small business
At Devonshire Green, our professionals have been hard at work to help small businesses navigate these troubling times. We have experience in helping small businesses and the self-employed make the most of their finances in unique circumstances. We can help with budgeting, taxation and utilising different Government schemes.
If you are not sure what the coronavirus pandemic means for your small business finances, we can help. Contact us today to ensure reopening your small business post lockdown goes smoothly!